Time and Learning: How Schools Can Do Better
Jan. 31, 2007
Time and Learning: How Schools Can Do Better
Guests: Patrick Hould, principal of Lewistown Junior High School in Lewistown, Mont., and member of the Time, Learning and Afterschool Task Force; Elena Silva, senior policy analyst at Education Sector; and Jennifer Davis, co-founder and president of Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit organization working to expand learning opportunities for urban children in Massachusetts.
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s chat about how schools can do a better job managing their use of time to maximize student learning.
We have a large volume of questions, so let’s get the discussion started ...
Question from John Stallcup APREMAT/USA:
Given many other countries employ longer school days, and years has there been an analysis of how they use the extra time. As an example Japan has a much longer day/week/year but the students don’t necessarily spend more time each day focused on academics. Classroom teachers in Japan spend far more time preparing to teach. What are the priorities for using any additional time?
Prioritizing the use of any extra time is at the heart of this issue. Is our curriculum too narrow, or narrowing, because of increasing emphasis on reading, math (and now science) achievement? Certainly, parents and educators are expressing concern over the loss of arts and social studies, and there is evidence that schools are indeed spending less time on these subjects than they once did (despite that these too are considered parts of the core curriculum under NCLB). There is little argument that we should offer all of these subjects, plus additional enrichment activities, to students in our public schools. But finding the time to do this is difficult, hence the increasing attention to extending the day.
Comment from Karen Jamison, Department Chair, Elementary Education, Florida College:
I would be in favor of more time in schools if the time used already could be maximized first. We need smaller classrooms to reduce the number of students each teacher needs to support in learning. How many students can one teacher appropriately work individually with during the 6.5-7 hours they are in school each day? Let’s work to lower class size to 15 - 18 and then if that doesn’t work, add time onto the year or day for those with extra needs. Let’s compare the research available on both situations - lower class size and extended days before making these issues political.
Question from Larry Shawn Bassham, ABD, Graduate Student, Okalahoma State University, College of Education:
What thought has gone into financing? Specifically, there is an assumption that teachers will be participants, is there forethought as to the little pay they receive now for an eight hour day to a formulated ten or twelve hour day? (of which I sure some will declare poverty and chastity for the opportunity, but I tend not to believe so). Does it not all boil down to money? How much and when can we get it?
A little cynical
Yes, extending time is certainly expensive, although in large part this is because teachers are being compensated for the extra time. Many teachers are willing to get on board with extending the day or year because of this extra pay. This isn’t true for all teachers- others say no to extending time because they need the hours to tend to their own kids, or to take classes, for example. But schools and districts have come up with some creative ways to make this work for teachers, including alternative staffing arrangements (shifts, for instance, where some teachers work early morning to early afternoon and others work later mornings to evening). In the end, expanding staff hours and/or adding staff are necessary components of any extended time initiative. And the most costly. Although, based on Massachusetts’ experiments with implementing extended school schedules, the cost is not proportionate to the time added. So adding 30 percent more time would only require about a 20 percent budget increase. Still substantial, of course, but an important point. Jennifer Davis could certainly go into more detail about the cost of the Massachusetts schools.
Question from Cheryl Saliwanchik-Brown, Doctoral Candidate, University of Maine:
I am a doctoral candidate and a former teacher in the public school system. My current interest is with at-risk adolescents and school reform. I believe that any program that targets meaningful and experiential learning is a win-win program for all students. Yet, I wonder about the issue of homework (which is more often meaningless, time-consuming and busy-work); how will this program address the issue of “time” when students are confronted with the age-old tradition of loading on more lessons at the end of their day? Will the schools support substituting hours of homework for more interesting and meaningful fieldwork?
What’s clear is that adding more time should include a comprehensive review of how all time is used. Yes, additional learning time should be used to introduce experiential education and more hands-on approaches to supplement the curriculum. In several of the schools here in MA which have implemented the expanded model however, homework help has been a critical component. Instead of “outsourcing” worksheets and lessons home with the students, the expanded programming allows time for students to work through their homework, while having direct individualized homework help available to them if they need it.
Question from john delich, teacher, Springfield Ball Charter School, Springfield, IL:
Has the Time, Learning and Afterschool Task Force been made aware of any quanitative research that an extended day has positive affect on academic achievement?
Are there ages of children whom an extended day might be a better fit than others?
Has the Task force looked into a paid extended day for teachers only to collaborate & to allow time for professional development?
Do the members participating today find it ironic that the live chat happens within the traditional day, when teachers are teaching?
There is a wealth of existing research on afterschool programs positively linked to academic success. Some of this data is referenced in the report.
Question from Kim Caise, Campus Instructional Technologist, Bob Hope Elementary:
Some charter schools have modified schedules of 4 days a week with each being about 10 hours and some have schedules of 8 -5 with half a day every other Saturday. With high quality instruction, do schedules such as these lend themselves to increasing student retention and achievement in and of itself?
With high-quality instruction, alternative school schedules can certainly increase student achievement, if that is the purpose and vision for changing the schedule. However, school schedules, historically and now, are not always changed for educational purposes or goals so that’s an important consideration. Most schools and districts are turning to 4-day weeks for cost-saving reasons. Many are in rural districts with changing, sometimes decreasing, populations. Keeping the school open for 4-days cuts back on transportation costs as well as costs for operations. This is not necessarily a bad thing- it may best serve the local context and community- but it is not explicitly done to increase student achievement or retention. I’m not aware of research that shows that it does either. The 8-5 plus Saturday schedule may be implemented to increase the amount of instructional time for students who don’t have a lot of options for quality learning opportunities on Saturdays or afterschool. In this case, if it is quality instruction, it may very well increase student achievement. More quality time has been proven to do so. Research on the relationship between more quality time in school and student engagement, which has implications for student retention, isn’t so clear. That is, we don’t know if kids are more likely to stay engaged and stay in school given a longer schedule.
Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
Has anybody given thought to the fact that when the school calendar changes to extend the day/school year, it gives a tremendous opportunity to change the curriculum for the better at the same time?
Absolutely. As noted elsewhere, one of the benefits of the MA program is that it has prompted a redesign of the school day and a total rethinking of how time is used. That innovation has often prompted changes to curricula, including the integration of more project-based learning and a wide variety of enrichment opportunities (everything from karate to musical instrument lessons to drama productions). In fact, the expanded educational program has also prompted teachers and administrators to consider how different subjects and enrichment activities could be better integrated to provide students a more seamless and comprehensive education.
Question from vivian koppelman, Charter school of Educational Excellence:
Are schools aware of Learning Styles? Our research at St. John’s found that most of the morning classes don’t respond to adolescent learning preferences. Most adolescent learning happens in the late morning and afternoon. Yet we continue to schedule morning classes with difficult subjects. This is true of High School as well.
The Task Force is suggesting that schools take a serious look at the existing structure of the school day and that we, “do this only by redesigning the whole day for children so that it is a seamless learning experience providing students with multiple ways of learning, anchored to high standards and aligned to educational resources throughout a community.” (pg. 4) I believe that there pockets of staff that are familiar with and learned in Learning Styles. How teachers are able to better serve our young people could most definitely be enhanced with a greater understanding of the unique learning styles of their students.
Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
For Jennifer Davis: Please explain why your 2020 organization for urban children has this interest in extended day or extended year education for urban youngsters?
Without giving you our whole background (it’s available at www.mass2020.org), we are an educational non-profit foundation that believes strongly that expanded learning time is necessary (but not sufficient) to work to close the achievement gap, and better prepare children for the 21st century. Necessary because to have more professional development, to have more individualized instruction, to have more time on task, to add enrichment activities, to allow for more sustained silent reading--all of the things we can agree we need more of--there simply must be more time in the school day.
Why urban? Well for starters we think all children could benefit from more time, but particularly those from low socio-economic backgrounds. All of the data indicate that there is a strong correlation between SES and academic achievement, and it’s no surprise that low income (often urban) children face a host of learning barriers, and start off disadvantaged vis-a-vis their suburban higher SES peers. The opportunities available through an expanded day help to level the playing field.
Question from Nancy Flanagan, Teacher Leaders Network:
Opinion leaders often cite the United States’ middle-of-the-pack standings in international comparisons of student achievement, but seldom comment on the great international variance in how many days students attend school annually. How does requiring more time impact student learning?
Yes, cross-national studies show considerable variability in the number of days students spend in school. We also find this variability within many countries, where some regions may offer 170 days and others 210 days. The U.S. is fairly consistent across states. Most states (29 plus DC) require a minimum of 180 days, and no state offers less than 170. International comparisons are tricky, both for instructional time and achievement. The educational systems of different nations are quite different, in curricular and pedagogical approaches as well as a broader philosophy and vision for education. So intl assessments don’t necessary tell us a lot about which country is doing the best job to prepare students for our now-global economy, nor do they confirm whether more time leads to better learning.
Question from Suzanne Bouffard, Project Manager, Harvard Family Research Project:
Research shows that when youth have opportunities for “voice and choice,” they are more likely to participate in, be engaged in, and benefit from learning opportunities, both in and out of school. This issue is of particular importance for adolescents. How can efforts to restructure time and learning respect youth’s opinions and ensure that they are engaged?
You are right. We are hearing reports from teachers in the expanded time schools in MA that students are more engaged in their education specifically because they are choosing enrichment activities that they want to participate in. To be sure, they are all taking math and science, but they now have the opportunity to decide whether they will take robotics course or learn a new instrument. Certainly, when students feel they can take ownership of their own education, they are that much more likely to be motivated to achieve at high levels.
Question from Bob Muench, Mountainville Academy (charter), Alpine UT:
There has been considerable dispute concerning the use of the “block schedule”. Is it better for students to learn a little every day on each subject, or is it better to have more time, 80-90 minutes every other day?
The success of block scheduling is mostly dependent on the teachers. Research on blocks shows a lot of promise when teachers are prepared to teach this type of schedule. But there is also ample evidence that most block formats will not work if and when teachers are accustomed and trained for traditional classes of, say, 50 minutes of English. These teachers tend to prepare instruction for a 50-minute class and then turn to supplemental or review materials for the remainder. The purpose of the block-- to increase the amount of focused and engaged instructional time-- is undermined by this latter practice. A longer period provides the opportunity for more learning, but only if the teachers know how to use this time for academic instruction. Curricular and testing alignment, as well, are considerations as some block schedules offer certain subjects during one semester and others during another semester. Obviously, if a science assessment is scheduled for June, having science only in the fall semester would not be the best idea.
Question from Jeffrey L. Peyton, Founding Exec. Dir., Puppetools:
Why not survey kids what they would do with their school? Why close schools at 4 PM and all weekend? Who else could be using the space, offering classes [aka experiences?] besides teachers? What must we do to turn the concept of school on its head so that children and teachers are not locked into rooms, roles, schedules, and mind-numbing routine? In a connected world, what would the school physically contain? What if each room in the school was an Epcot-like theater of operations, places and spaces that attracted kids who were free to roam and visit based on the quality of the rooms and the excitement and authenticity of the adults who work or volunteer in them? Why merely think out of the box and engage in predictable, tired behavior like the education think tank Education Sector report that recommends policymakers collect data on how time in schools is spent and model school calendars after existing, successful programs when all we need are bold thinkers and doers ready to re-invent?
I agree that we need bold thinkers and doers who are willing to rethink how our schools are set up and how education is delivered (in school and out of school). We need new and creative ideas.
But I firmly stand behind the recommendation that we should collect and use data on how time is spent. If we don’t know how we’re spending our time in any endeavor, including education, we can’t make informed decisions about how to improve the use of our time (or if we need to). Likewise, it’s just smart practice to learn from existing successful programs.
It is precisely this combination- having new creative idea and learning from what works and doesn’t- that will lead to better schools and student learning.
Question from Peggy Sorensen, Ohio Department of Education:
As your article points out, the issue is not just more time, but more time doing the right things. From a policy perspective, are there ways to support schools in making the best use of the currently available time, as well as expanding time for those schools who still have far to go?
Yes. Here in MA, our policy perspective has been to allow schools (administrators, teachers, etc.) to develop a plan for an expanded school schedule that meets their individual needs and is subject to accountablity to the Department of Education. In nearly all of the schools, the additional time has been used to combine more time on task in critical areas such as literacy and math, time devoted to subjects such as science and social studies that perhaps had been cut in previous years, and a reintrodcution of enrichment activities, such as music sports arts and drama that have been sacrificed in favor of core academics. While the state policy broadly called for 1) more core academics, 2) more enrichment and 3) expanded professional development, the specifics were left up to the individual districts and schools, with appropriate oversight from the Department of Education. Simply put one size does not fit all, and we didn’t try to make it fit. Instead we encouraged entrepreneurship and innovation, subject to certain broad guidlines.
Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:
The trend in professional development is for a school’s teacher teams to collaborate within the school day to learn whatever is necessary to increase student achievement. To what extent do the Task Force recommendations favor creating additional time for this purpose?
This answer is simple: “Do whatever it takes”. Do whatever it takes to prepare teachers in time tested practices that best serve our young people. The Task Force acknowledges that there is no cookie cutter or cookbook model for a new day for learning. Creating additional time for staff development is important and must work within the context of school district practices and expectations. I really liked what Rhonda Lauer stated during the press conference, when A New Day was released: “Professional Development needs to be seamless as a new day for learning. There needs to be joint professional development across communities”.
Question from Kala Bunnelle, Math Teacher, McGavock High School, Metro Nashville Davidson County School System:
Germany only requires students to go to school one-half of the day. Teachers are given the rest of the day for planning. I noticed that when we have one-half days that my students are extremely focused on their work. I don’t think that they even realize this. I think feel the crunch time because they know they are going home soon. The other one-half of the day could be used for working to contribute back to the tax system that supports our schools or learning on the job. Usually our students are tired by lunch. This is when you see more student confrontations occuring. What we are doing now is not working. Has the United States ever considered this approach?
We know that if students are not engaged, they are not learning. We also know that learning does not start and end at the school-house door. Both of these points suggests a need for variety in learning experiences, both in school and outside of school. So I would support more connections between school and community-based learning opportunities, including work-based learning. And certainly teacher’s time (for planning and professional development) is an important part of any school design. But the fact remains that many of our students are not gaining the basic skills they need to succeed in work or higher education and schools are being held increasingly accountable for this. I fear that reducing the amount of formal instructional time would make it even harder for students and schools.
Question from Kathleen Nollet, doctoral student in education, Lesley University:
High schools continue to start earlier than elementary schools, despite the fact that young children wake earlier and older children need to sleep later. What can you say to school committees who do not want to change this due to bus schedules and after school sports?
My first reaction is that schools should never create a schedule based upon after school sports or because of a convenient bus schedule. Schools must work to create schedules that best serve our awesome young people. Students deserve the best opportunity to be successful. We need to examine and utilize the developmental research that exists to make the best decisions for our kids. I feel strongly that rethinking the school day is a local decision, but one that must be made that addresses student needs first and adult convenience second.
Question from Ray Phelps teacher North Hardin High Radcliff, Ky.:
Reseach proves there is two much wasted time before and at the end of classes and that block scheduling wastes even more time. I think we need more focus on time spent on task(I know we would be surprised at instructional time lost)and developing Rigor, Relevance, and Relationship beginning (at least) at the high schol level with intensive 9th grade academies. Your thoughts.
One requirement of the funding mechanism here in MA was that it required a “redesign” of the school schedule. We have not had any high schools that have participated in the expanded learning time program here, but there are several in the pipeline for future years. That said, one of the benefit of this program is that school administrators in developing their new schedule considered exactly the kind of question you raise. For example, in one school using a TERC math curriculum, they were not able to fully implement the project-based curriculum in a 45-minute block, but they’ve had marked success implementing it in their new expanded 75 minute block. Is that the right model for every school, not necessarily, but by rethinking their entire school schedule, vs. adding an extra period at the end of the day, this school was able to meet a critical need.
Question from randy Humphreys Alder Creek MS Truckee Ca:
How does Music education fit in with the core academic subjects?
Again, this brings up the issue of a narrowing curriculum and the “trade-offs” that schools are confronting. In an effort to enhance the rigor of certain subjects- namely reading and math- other subjects and enrichment courses are losing out. The Center for Education Policy recently found that more than 20 percent of districts have reduced time spent on arts and music. This despite the fact that there are some creative examples of how arts and music can be funded and integrated into the day (the Gov’s Commission on Arts in Education, led by Governor Huckabee, put out a report last year that describes a lot of this, and the state of arts education in an NCLB context). But this doesn’t change the fact that schools are facing tough choices about how to use school time- which subjects to prioritize and how.
Question from Bob Frangione, Educator:
The school day has been extended in most states from a 1950’s average of 9 to 3, to an average 8 to 3 today. What, if any have been the advantages/disadvantages of this extended school day? How would an afetr school program be promoted as a positive activity to students already feeling imprisoned within a school system?
An important question. As for the notion of “feeling imprisoned”, this is certainly a concern, which is why the schools in MA with an expanded day have worked very hard to integrate many enrichment activities into the school day, activities like robotics, drama and arts, activities that engage the students and teach them a set of skills that they may not get through core academic classes.
Our research has shown that, in fact, the norm for school schedules at the current time is a 6 to 6 1/2 hour day for no more than 180 days per year. In fact, a survey of all 50 states has revealed that when states do have minimum requirements for instructional hours, then tend to be between 900 - 1,000 hours per year, which, calculated over 180 days is between 5 - 6 hours per day. There are certainly districts with longer school days than the norm, but research shows that these longer days tend to be in more suburban districts, while urban districts -- those serving many students from more disadvantaged backgrounds -- attend schools with schedules of less than 6.5 hours per day.
Question from Barbara Smith, VP, Academic Program, The Sterling Hall School, Toronto, Canada:
Why are schools increasing time for traditional classroom teaching when we now can use technology in more creative ways to move the classroom away from the four walls we’ve used for centuries?
Rethinking the school day or redesigning the learning day, whichever way we talk about it, should absolutely include attention to technology and the fact that it has changed the ways we can learn (and teach). Technology has opened up a world of difference for where and when learning can occur. Our report On the Clock doesn’t delve into this, although we have another Education Sector report coming out soon on virtual learning that will hopefully add to this conversation. Mott’s A New Day for Learning does address the need for new ways of using technology.
Question from margie wadlron, ode coach, harvey high school, Painesville, ohio:
Many schools across the country are having problems with homework. Why do School Boards and Administration and teachers, ignore the fact that with limited-time school days, students have limited time on task.
I have seen various classes work on projects that should have been homework, but because the kids just don’t do homework, the teacher had to complete the assignment in class.
If the day were extended, through various methods, students would have more time to do the work. There are many ways this could be accomplished without extending every teacher’s day. Staggered starting times, MWF/T TH classes etc.
I am very concerned with the limited time students have to be on task in the schools today.
More time in the classroom or comparable on task is needed, in my opinion.
I believe that we must ask ourselves, Is completing homework in class the best use of instructional time? And, does completing homework in class really improve students learning? While it is true that students will have access to their teacher if completing work within the classroom setting, I believe that we must effectively teach students, “how to learn so that they have the greatest potential for learning in a variety of settings. The other key that is mentioned in A New Day for Learning is relevance. School must “integrate various approaches to acquiring and reinforcing knowledge into a learning day”. As the report states, “Relevance is a major hook to engaging students”.
Question from June Antoine, Retired Asst. Principal, Shaker Heights City School District:
What do you think of returning to homogenious groupings, especially in elementary and middle school core subjects?
We live in a very diverse world and I accept the comment made in A New Day for Learning, “Our nation has never had as many students or as diverse a student population in its schools as it does now. The diversity is American and should be celebrated and embrace.” (pg. 10) I believe that our classrooms are a reflection of this America and that we should embrace the unique nature of all of our children. As adults we need to, pardon the cliché, be “the best that we can be” for each and every child, for this is what they so richly deserve. I have long been an advocate for full inclusion of students with special needs. After all, I believe that in one way or another all of our students have special needs and as I said before, they deserve the best that we have to offer in regard to course offerings, staff and other support services etc.
Question from Prof. Etta Kralovec, University of Arizona South:
In my book, Schools that Do Too Much I report on my research on the use of time in schools. I found that in the elementary school, time drips away in all the ‘extra’ things like fund raising, holiday celebrations, etc. At the high school level, it was sports that really ate into the school day. Early release days, players leaving early and disrupting classes, pep rallies. There is a culture in schools and communities that academic learning is a small part of what schools are about.
How do we change that culture so we see schools as sacred places where learning is at the core, rather than community centers where wrapping paper sales compete with math instruction and where parents demand to have their children’s parties?
This is a great question. To me the answer rests in the one word you used in your question: culture. What a school values is what is recognized. This can be seen in daily habits, procedures and policies. Principals must lead the charge to better structure the learning opportunities, to demonstrate learning as a top priority not by what they say, but by what they practice. That having been said, as a Principal I fully understand the challenges of the social aspects of the school environment and how vital that can be to the development of our young people. I realize the need for there to be a mix, but academics and student learning must be at the forefront.
Question from Cheryl Gray, Southern Regional Education Board (SREB):
For Patrick Hould, As a principal, what are the major report recommendations that you would like other principals to know and act upon? Which recommendations will be difficult to enact?
As an online Principal, there are definitely a couple of “aha” items within the report. First, I believe that we must help prepare our young people to be responsible citizens. Our notion of the school house walls need to be flexible as students explore ways to engage with the human and other resources within the greater community. Service-learning is an example of a viable method of providing opportunities for this engagement, tapping outside resources, and creating a flexible school house environment. Secondly, the report highlights the significance of workplace and college readiness skills, or soft skills, such as problem solving, reliability and teamwork. Schools must stand ready to prepare our young people for a future that does not yet exist. These skills will be key to their future success. Finally, as highlighted on page 8, schools must, “Build new collaborative structures across sectors in communities and up and down government hierarchies that focus all resources on supporting academic and developmental goals for children.” The report also makes a case that we must assess, “the available resources to change the learning environment.” Principals can and should be positive role models of the types of partnerships that are needed for all children to feel success.
Question from Mark Simon, director, Mooney Institute for Teacher and Union Leadership:
How can teacher time be organized so that the instructional leadership that resides on a faculty is tapped and shared, but teachers are not burned out, lectured to, or otherwise disrespected? How can teacher leadership be well used without pulling the best teachers from the classroom?
First and foremost, schools need to foster a culture of caring and respect for students and staff. Secondly, Teachers need to play an integral role in determining how their skills can best be utilized to maximize their individual talents to teach other staff and still optimize their “face time” with students in the classroom. Thirdly, school administrators must be willing to allow staff opportunities to determine how this can work within the structure of their school community. The structure must be customized to the learning community and the staff within.
Within a new day for learning, we must be willing to look at different types of schedules and practices that best accommodate student and staff needs.
Question from Tami Farber Director of Adolescent Services Millennium High School:
One of the challenges I face is assessing the impact of time spent in after school programming that supports both academics (tutoring/extra help) as well as leadership development, creative expression, civic engagement and social responsibility, healthy life styles, etc.
It is easy to quanitfy young people’s successes in school through grades, attendance records however when trying to assess impact on behavior change and how that has a direct correlation to success in school is a whole other ball game.
Do you know of any studies, measurment tools or indicators being used to assess how time spent in after school programming has an impact on academic success?
There have been a number of very strong evaluations of individual after-school programs, as well as some meta-analyses, that do indicate a significant impact that after-school programs can have on students’ academic achievement. (You can go to the research section of our website, www.mass2020.org or that of the Afterschool Alliance, www.afterschoolalliance.org, for links to some of these studies).
Your question also touches on an important point, namely, that education has to be viewed as more than just increasing test scores. One of the advantages of a longer school day is that it enables students more access to a broader range of skill-building activities than they might ordinarily be able to get in the traditional six-hour day.
Question from Belinda Laumbach, Ph.D. retired:
Knowing what we know about the adolescent brain and the times of day when the brain is ready to learn, why are we still scheduling schools days as if no research existed?
Scheduling logistics (namely bus schedules) play a role in this, as do the work and family obligations of many adolescent students. Participation in athletics- with perceived higher stakes at the high school level- also keeps the teen school schedule starting early and ending with time for practice. But, while some of these are practical reasons, your point is a good one. There is research to suggest that teenagers sleep patterns are in conflict with the early start times of high schools. This is true, of course, for college students as well who sign up voluntarily- albeit unhappily- for 8am classes and appear to do just as well. I’d be interested in any large-scale surveys on what students think. I worked in a school in Oakland, CA in the nineties that surveyed the students on this and they said they wouldn’t give up early dismissal for later start times.
Question from Christine Vogelsang, Deputy Superintendent, Syracuse City School District:
We may have the opportunity to extend the school day in the coming school year. As a high needs district, we need more time with students to close the achievement gap as well as more time for embedded professional development for staff. If we add an hour to our 6 hour school day, would research suggest we devote it to professional development for staff or extend the learning time for students or a combination of both to increase student achievement?
The least successful extra-time initiatives have divided up small amounts of time throughout the day, so each period (in a well-meaning effort to fairly distribute time to all teachers and subjects) gets an extra 8 or 9 minutes. This has not proven effective, so first and foremost I would say to avoid this strategy.
Time for teachers to plan and receive professional development is a good way to ensure that school time, all and any of it, is used well. This gives you a better shot of keeping the teachers on board and the students engaged.
Question from Joseph W. Buckley Jr. Science and Technology Curriculum Liaison Worcester Public Schools MA:
Having been a designer and presenter of an extended day program for an urban high school that was discontinued not for lack of interest or participation but funding. It seems that the urban students benefited from activities that engaged their interest and was not directly focused on formal education. Examples of this are modeling, table game playing, robotics and collecting. These activities connect to learning skills and lifelonf activities in some cases. Should there type of opportunities be included in the extended school day?
Yes these are essential to engaging students in learning. In fact, one of the guidelines of the state policy that enabled the expansion of the school day in MA, was that schools had to integrate enrichment opportunities as part of the educational program. All ten implementing schools have these types of opportunities available to all students now and, according to reports from teachers and principals, they have seen students transfer their love of learning in these more “informal” settings into their work in their core academic classes.
Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student, Penn:
How can all of the stake holders in an extended learning environment trust that this will work? Can this situation contribute to a culture of trust in the school setting?
The key to implementing change in any organization is trust among stakeholders. Such trust cannot be mandated, of course, but the state was very smart in providing for a year-long planning process (during the year prior to implementation) that required the involvement of the principal, teachers and other partners in redesigning the school day to enhance teaching and learning. Not only did this process itself generate trust among stakeholders during the planning, it allowed a much smoother implementation of the program once the schools opened their doors with an expanded day in Sept. 2006.
Question from Abby Weiss, Project Manager, Harvard Family Research Project:
The report calls for “a broader view of learning” and a new way of thinking about assessing student learning and achievement. How should we change our current assessment practices to more accurately reflect what high school graduates need to be successful in the 21st century (including communication, technology, and other skills)?
We need assessments that effectively measure what students know and are able to do. Assessments must include multiple measures, should be broad based and assess students based upon their individual abilities - as compared to themselves. Task Force member Judith Johnson spoke of this issue eloquently at the press release, when she stated that “Current assessments are not broad enough and do not measure for example, demonstration of knowledge, i.e., how you can apply: critical thinking, team work, resiliency etc.”
Question from Douglas Levin, Sr. Director of Education Policy, Cable in the Classroom:
In efforts to rethink time and learning, what are the pros and cons to approaches to reduce the amount of time students take off over the summer? My understanding is that ‘summer loss’ is a well-established notion and that a re-adjustment of the school calendar - spread more evenly over the course of the year - would do more to help students than modest attempts to extend the formal school day (by a few minutes) or the school year (by a few days).
This is an important question. It is true that there is well-established research that shows a loss of learning during the summer, especially among children from low-income families. Spreading the calendar more evenly across the year may very well help to combat this loss, though it is more logistically challenging than extending the school day. What is most exciting about the expanded learning time program in MA is that the added time is anything but modest. The state required participating schools to expand their schedule by 30 percent -- the equivalent of about two hours more per day or 45 more days per year. (Because of the logistical challenges, most of the schools expanded the day only and kept the year the same length.) This substantial addition of time has enabled schools to entirely re-design their educational program, significantly expanding time on task in core academics, enrichment activities and individualized instruction.
Question from ginny keniry assistant principal chickering elementary school:
“There is a wealth of existing research on afterschool programs positively linked to academic success. Some of this data is referenced in the report”. I’d be interested in hearing what you know about this research and how it does or does not pertain to various socio-economic groups. I’ve not yet had time to read the report.
Several reports to look to, actually. Mott’s task force report, A New Day for Learning, is linked in the introduction of this chat. We at Education Sector have also just put out a report, On the Clock, that explains some of this research (www.educationsector.org). As well, Mass2020’s website (www.mass2020.org) has a tab on out-of-school learning that describes much of this research as well. In short, we know that lower-income kids need more quality opportunities for learning, and afterschool programs provide some great options to increase and augment the learning that happens in classrooms. Not all after-school programs are successful- the best ones combine an academic focus (enhancing skills) with enrichment (keeping them engaged).
Question from Jamie Alter, Research Assistant, Operation Public Education at the Center for Greater Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania:
Should we reconstruct the school day or school year in order to accomodate teacher professional development?
I believe that in a new day for learning, we will have to continue being creative in our approach to teacher professional development opportunities. Reconstructing the school day or the school year, could be a solution, but I believe that this is a site based decision. I believe that we can and should use our time more efficiently in order to maximize teacher and student learning. There is not a one size fits all answer. Schools will have to look at local options that best meet the needs of their staff.
One specific example shared by the Task Force rests with the Teacher Advancement Program (pg. 9 & Appendix C, A New Day for Learning) The TAP program, which was created by the Milken Family Foundation is a model for creating learning communities for peers.
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this informative chat. And a special thanks to our guests for taking time out of their busy days to address many questions.
This chat is now over. A transcript will be posted shortly on edweek.org.
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